Album Reviews

Squarepusher – Solo Electric Bass 1

(Warp) UK release date: 17 August 2009

Squarepusher - Solo Electric Bass 1 Bass is the place for Tom Jenkinson, as he goes back to his first principles to reveal what really makes him tick as a musician. These principles are revealed in concert – a feature of the typical Squarepusher live experience, but captured on disc for the first time. It proves something of a revelation to hear him, recorded in 2007 at the responsive Cité de la Musique in Paris.

The concert is as intimate as could be asked, with no edits and crowd noise kept to a minimum. A solitary cough towards the end of the fourth track is the closest we get to a pin dropping, while after the more intense periods of fretwork there are genuine gasps of astonishment.

It works well to hear him at work in such an uncut format, for this is just Jenkinson, lifted away from percussion and all other electronic trappings, save a single amplifier. And for those of you who think 12 tracks of pure bass guitar sounds like an unnecessary indulgence, the colours Jenkinson gets from the instrument have to be heard to be believed. Only once or twice do his improvisations meander towards self-indulgence – but for the most part this is highly musical, cohesive stuff.

To make it even more ‘of the moment’ the 12 compositions are unnamed improvisations, simply numbered 1 to 12. The ideas are seemingly germinated on the spot – some fast and animated, others slow and dreamy. Few stylistic possibilities are left unturned, as he moves from the odd burst of frenzied funk to languid, Mediterranean-style nocturnes.

Jenkinson has a formidable command of his bass, and conjures the most extraordinary sounds from it. In the rushing, arpeggiated motives of the S.E.B. 5 the range is similar to that of a normal guitar, with high treble notes hit full on. In S.E.B. 2 he finds a lovely strain of Spanish tremolo, and if you didn’t know otherwise you’d think he was playing an excerpt from a classical suite for guitar, a smoky nocturne perhaps.

At times he goes for a more rhythmic approach, and as the improvisations progress this approach takes over more. The seventh track bites down on the strings with strong attack as he searches for – and finds – raw funk, before becoming increasingly worked up in a dazzling display of virtuosity. The eighth track does likewise before subsiding to a burnt-out coda.

What might start as a project which has specialist appeal only therefore becomes something well worth hearing, a lesson in how to make the most from an instrument with seemingly limited range, without overdoing the beard scratching.

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